Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy introduces the 2023 provincial budget. March 23, 2023. (Image captured via Government of Ontario Announcements on YouTube.)Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy introduces the 2023 provincial budget. March 23, 2023. (Image captured via Government of Ontario Announcements on YouTube.)

Ontario tables historic $204-billion budget

The Ontario government introduced its 2023 budget on Thursday, the largest in the province's history.

Ontario's Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy tabled a whopping $204.7 billion post-pandemic spending plan. The document includes investments that support infrastructure, health care, education and some assistance for students and seniors.

The province said it expects to run a $1.3-billion deficit during the 2023 fiscal year, which begins next month. A surplus of $200 million is later projected in 2024-2025, followed by a $4.4-billion surplus the following fiscal year, allowing them to bring things back to black three years earlier than anticipated in the 2022 budget.

"Ontario's economy remains resilient, but the road ahead continues to be uncertain," said Minister Bethlenfalvy. "Our government has the right plan to navigate these challenges. We are building Ontario so we can have a strong economy for the future and the infrastructure needed to support growth across the province."

Bethlenfalvy said the province is forecasting around $200 billion in revenue this year, that's over $20 billion more than last year's budget. Come 2025-2026, the last fiscal year covered by Wednesday's budget, total revenue is expected to reach $226 billion.

Included on the new budget's list of expenses are plans to continue large infrastructure plans with over $20 billion slated for highway, hospital and transit projects. The province boosted health spending by investing $200 million to address healthcare staffing shortages to grow the workforce. It plans to add more than half a billion in home care, $72 million to expand publicly funded procedures at private clinics and $80 million over three years to increase post-secondary nursing program enrolment.

The ministry said it will invest another $75 million over the next three years into its Skills Development Fund and $224 million to build and upgrade training centres.

Another $25 million over three years will be used to attract more skilled workers, including in-demand professionals in the skilled trades, to Ontario. This program is focused on nominating applicants for permanent residency who have the skills and experience to support Ontario’s ambitious Plan to Build.

Mental health and addictions services across the province will receive $425 million over three years, including a five per cent increase in base funding of community-based mental health and addictions services providers funded by the Ministry of Health.

Other highlights include:

• Investing in supportive housing with an additional $202 million each year in the Homelessness Prevention Program and the Indigenous Supportive Housing Program to help those experiencing, or at risk of homelessness, struggling with mental health and substance use, those escaping intimate partner violence, and support the community organizations delivering supportive housing.

• Supporting more Ontario students in becoming doctors by investing an additional $33 million over three years to add 100 undergraduate seats starting this year, as well as 154 postgraduate medical training seats to prioritize residents trained at home and abroad beginning next year. Ontarians will be prioritized for spots at medical schools in the province.

• Continuing off last year's budget, the province said it will continue its commitment of $1 billion over three years to get more people connected to care in the comfort of their own home and community. The province said it is accelerating investments to bring funding in 2023–2024 up to $569 million. This funding will also expand home care services and improve the quality of care, making it easier and faster for people to connect to care.

"Our plan is building Ontario so we can have a strong economy for the future and the infrastructure needed to support growth across the province," as said in the budget. "It is a plan that will balance the Budget. Responsibly eliminating Ontario’s deficit, while delivering on the priorities of the people and businesses of Ontario, is part of the long‐term vision this province needs."

Official Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Premier Doug Ford's budget "fails to meet the moment" and offers no relief for everyday Ontarians.

"Ford's Conservatives want you to think that this is the new normal – that this is as good as it gets. But things are not normal in Ontario right now," read a statement from Stiles. "People are struggling – they're not able to keep up with the rising costs of groceries, rent, or gas and they feel they are losing control of their lives, livelihoods, and futures."

The NDPs pointed out a number of things it felt were missing from the budget such as a stronger public health system without surgery backlogs and lengthy wait times, 10 permanent, guaranteed sick days for all workers, more solutions to the housing crisis such as building affordable homes near transit, and plans to protect the Greenbelt and its agricultural lands.

Stiles' NDPs also criticized the budget stating it will be harder for Ontarians to find affordable places to live and keep up with the rising cost of inflation as the PCs did not include increases to minimum wage, or pay raises for nurses, health care workers, child care and education workers.

"In Ontario, we all deserve a government that will support us, make choices for us, and invest in systems and supports that make our lives better," said Stiles. "Ford isn’t doing his job."

The province’s real gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is projected to be 37.8 per cent in 2022-2023, the lowest level in over a decade. Ontario's net debt-to-GDP ratio is now forecast to be 37.8 per cent in 2023-2024, and declining to 37.7 per cent in 2024–2025 and 36.9 per cent in 2025–2026.

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